Jul 272010
 

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream – Edgar Allan Poe

inception-poster-2010 So I went to see Inception last night with most of the family. First a general review. It was an excellent and entertaining movie. It combined espionage, science fiction  and action with mind-bending psychological and metaphysical elements. I don’t generally go out of my way to see a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but he seems to be getting better.

But my reason for commenting here is because of the use of the dream metaphor. Just as a warning, my commentary below may be considered a spoiler by some, so you may want to see the movie first.

The movie involves shared dreaming, dreams-within-dreams, and the strange phenomena that in dreams, we are often unaware that we are dreaming, and confuse dreaming with real life. As the characters struggle to avoid becoming lost in their multi-layered dreams and strive to wake up, a natural question arises – what if the waking world is actually yet another layer of dream, from which we need to awaken? In the film, this speculation is immediately and forcefully dismissed as pathological. But the director knows that he has planted a seed of doubt in our minds, and he subtly toys with that doubt right up to the end of the movie. Seeds of doubt are another theme that runs throughout the movie.

In fact, dreaming and waking have been used in various spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for ordinary consciousness and enlightenment. In fact, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one”.  In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:

Awake and arise from your sleep,
and hear the words of our letter.
Remember that you are a son of kings,
consider the slavery you are serving.

Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.

It’s interesting that several spiritual and psychological schools and techniques use dream work, dream journaling and lucid dreaming as tools for self-development. Ken Wilber suggests that dream work is one of the few resources we have for accessing our shadow aspects – which are normally invisible to the conscious mind.

Like the dream engineers in Inception, we need to become better architects of the dream world in order to become more conscious in the waking world – and ultimately – awake to the larger world of spirit.

Jan 302010
 

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

– William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Another insight from the new book Nurtureshock is that one of the biggest issues with children and teens today is that almost universally, the world over, cheldren are getting an hour less sleep every day than they did thirty years ago. This is the source of innumerable problems. For example, researchers were trying to correlate behavior such as TV watching with teen obesity. They couldn’t do it. Thin kids watch just as much TV as fat kids. But they DID find a correlation with overweight – and lack of sleep. Yes, lack of sleep can make you fat. The hormones that are required to properly burn fat are manufactured by the body during sleep. What’s more, lack of sleep produces the stress hormone cortisol, which causes fat to be stored. This stress hormone can also cause high blood pressure and heart disease.

For children, one of the primary problems with lack of sleep is that memory is processed during sleep. Our body uses that time to process and categorize memories. For children who are learning huge amounts of new information every day, lack of sleep can seriously interfere with learning and development. Some high schools that have experimented with starting school later in the morning resulted in a dramatic increase in student test scores.

Lack of sleep also compromises the immune system making us more susceptible to disease. Even cancer is associated with sleep loss.

Sleep deprivation also causes mood disturbances, depression, moodiness and the inability to concentrate. All of which are now cronic complaints of modern teens.  In fact, if we look at all the typical complaints of teenagers, they are a list of the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

For kids, lack of sleep is physically and emotionally devistating. But it doesn’t do the rest of us any good either. Our bodies are intended by nature to begin sleep soon after the sun goes down and awaken about when it comes back up. If we have so many commitments and activities that we can’t get good sleep time, we need to re-evaluate our priorities.

Sleep can also be a time for serious spiritual development. Take look at our articles on lucid dreaming, for example.

Nov 182009
 

dream2I’ve been having a very vivid series of dreams recently, and feel motivated to write a post on the art of dream interpretation. You can find dozens of dream dictionaries and interpretation guides in any bookstore of library. With respect, I’m going to suggest that they won’t do you a lot of good.

It is true that at times, our dreams can tap into common archetypes – even at the level of the collective unconscious.  You may well occasionally dream in Jungian archetypes – particularly if you are familiar with them, or are undergoing Jungian analysis.

But most of the meanings in our dreams will be entirely individual meanings. A particular person or place or object in my dream will not have the same meaning or associations as it will in your dreams. And unfortunately you can’t simply buy a book that contains all your own personal dream meanings. You have to do the work of unravelling them yourself. Fortunately, this isn’t a difficult thing to do, and is quite rewarding.

The key to doing effective dreamwork begins with dream journaling. I’m mentioned this in a previous article on lucid dreaming. The power of a dream journal is that as you keep it, your dreams will become easier to remember, and easier to understand.  Keep the journal and a pencil at your bedside. A small flashlight or book-light is also handy – or you can buy a pen with a built-in light.  When you awaken in the morning, or if you awaken during the night, lie very still.  Sudden movement or thought can drive dreams completely out of your head. Before you move or allow youself to think about anything else, lie still and try to remember your dreams.  If you have a particularly loud alarm clock, you may want to change to something more gradual and less jarring.

At first, you may be able to remember very little. Write down whatever you remember, even if it’s only a general atmosphere or feeling. If you remember nothing, then make up a dream you think you MIGHT have had. Sometimes just starting to write down these generalities can start to draw more specifics out of your memory.

Once you get into the habit, you will beging to remember more and more detail, and more and more dreams per night. When you write in your dream journal, only write on one side of the page and leave the other side blank. This blank side will be for analysis.  Once you get enough detail coming through, start to use the blank side of your journal. Next to each dream, write down the general theme, the general mood, and any important people, places, objects or events.

Once you have done this for a few weeks, you will start to see patterns emerge. Certain themes and subjects will recur. Write these down in a separate notebook or separate page.  This will become your personal “dream dictionary”. Then spend some time analyzing these subjects. What does this particular object mean to YOU. What does it mean in your personal history? What feelings do you associate with it? What mood or atmosphere is it associated with in your dreams? Now go back and try to understand what your dreams are saying in terms of these personal symbols.

By using this procedure, you will find that you will begin to get very clear messages from your dreams, and by acting on those messages, you will find yourself acting with more confidence, and more integrity to your whole psyche.

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